Charting the state of Washington's cultural nonprofits

We are not at the tail-end of a pandemic – we are at the beginning of a structural transformation.

Together we can reimagine the role of arts and culture in our communities. The COVID Cultural Impact Study (CCIS) documents and analyzes the pandemic’s impacts on Washington’s cultural community, including nonprofit producers and presenters of art and culture, the workforce, and the public who participate in these cultural activities.

The study uses several data sources: a Nonprofit Organizational Survey with 212 survey respondents from arts, cultural, heritage, and science nonprofit organizations from across the state; a Cultural Participant Survey of 737 adults who had attended at least one cultural program since March 2020, and a Statewide Omnibus Poll which was a sample of 874 individuals representative of all Washington residents. The study began in the Spring of 2021 and concluded data collection in early Fall of 2021.

Utilizing data from both cultural organizations and Washington residents, the COVID Cultural Impact Study (CCIS) analyzes the depth of the challenges the pandemic has created for Washington’s art and culture sector and illuminates the support necessary to revitalize these integral institutions.

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The COVID Cultural Impact Study underscores how critical arts and culture organizations are to Washington’s continued economic and community recovery and highlights the pivotal opportunity to transform how Washington invests in the future. Key findings include:

FINANCIAL IMPACT: Across 121 reporting organizations, there was a $95.9 million (21 percent) decrease in overall revenue and $68.5 million (20 percent) reduction in operating budgets in 2020 alone.

The $95.9 million loss in overall revenue is comprised of a $131.6 million decrease in earned revenue (e.g., ticket sales) and a $35.7 million increase in contributed revenue (e.g., individual donations, grants). Without the increase in critical funding from the public sector, individuals, philanthropy and other actors, the cultural sector would have experienced loss at a much greater scale.

EMPLOYMENT: The cultural workforce has been significantly impacted, prompting concern for a “cultural brain drain.” Nearly half (41 percent) of organizations furloughed staff or reduced hours and/or pay.

REOPENING: While over 70 percent of cultural organizations are open in some capacity, public participation declined significantly during COVID and the constantly changing nature of the pandemic means many have not returned to in-person events. Cultural participants are expected to spend about half of what they spent pre-pandemic on cultural programming,
impacting related industries including food, lodging, and retail, among others.

THE FUTURE: Cultural participants resoundingly agree (93 percent) that the role of art and cultural organizations will be important to Washington’s post-pandemic recovery. Half (48 percent) of cultural participants have placed more value on cultural programming since March 2020.

The top 5 roles cultural participants felt cultural non-profits should play are:

“Economic recovery for businesses and organizations”,

“Encouraging community unity and vitality”,

“Providing entertainment and escape”,

“Offering inspiration and hope”, and

“Creating employment for individuals.”

Future Outlook & Opportunities

The pandemic has indisputably changed us forever, and many of the longer-term impacts have yet to fully reveal themselves. Though limited, our survey data shows that organizations are far from recovery and running out of options. We used the data to scan the horizon for opportunities and two themes emerged. First, we consider how cultural organizations may continue to evolve over the coming years and the opportunities to support them in that transformation. Second, we look at the role cultural organizations can and will play in our collective social and economic future and wellbeing. It is evident that funders and policymakers also have some critical evolution ahead if they are to keep pace with the needs of the sector and communities.

Total revenues across organizations with three years of data declined by 14% between FY 2019 and 2020 and declined again by 26% between FY 2020 and 2021. Earned revenue declined by 42% between FY 2019 and 2020 and again by another 51% between FY 2020 and 2021.

"I have always felt the arts and culture are some of the most important things in our society, and after seeing how they were cast aside in the pandemic I am even more passionate about advocating for proper funding and attention being paid to them."

Snohomish County Cultural Participant


ArtsFund’s recommendations focus on five key areas highlighted for government and policy makers, cultural organizations, private funders, corporations and corporate funders, individual participants, and partner sectors.

Reimagine the role of arts and culture: center the cultural sector in economic development strategies, encourage cross-sector partnerships, and generate new audience research.

Expand and sustain public support: advocate for legislations that provide sustainable funding for the cultural sector and directly invest in arts as a strategy for social impact.

Protect the cultural workforce: pilot models to increase cultural worker wages and wage stability, expand employment definitions and eligibility criteria, invest in services to make arts occupations more viable, and create avenues to share resources and learnings across organizations.

Focus on equity: actively eliminate funding barriers, engage youth and families, learn from and better serve disability communities, and help diminish the digital divide.

Support adaptation and survival: provide unrestricted, multi-year support, further access to technology, support public health initiatives, and participate and give!

Case Studies

The CCIS includes five case studies from a range of organizations that illustrate the nuance behind the numbers of the pandemic experience. Selections were made to include different perspectives based on geography, the organizations’ BIPOC identity, discipline, and the scale of the organization. Qualitative interviews with representatives from each organization were conducted in October and November 2021.

LANGSTON, Multidisciplinary, King County
LANGSTON’s mission is to strengthen and advance our community through Black arts and culture.

Seattle Art Museum Visual Arts, King County
Seattle Art Museum’s mission is to connect art to life.

Spark Central Arts Service Organization, Spokane County
Spark Central is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit that ignites the creativity, innovation, and imagination necessary for people to forge the path to their best future.

Tasveer Film/Literary Arts, King County
Tasveer is a social justice arts non-profit with a mission to inspire social change through thought-provoking South Asian films, art, and storytelling.

TeenTix Arts Service Organization, Multidisciplinary, Youth Service Organization, King County
TeenTix builds a bright future for our region by empowering young people to take an active role in shaping their arts community as audience members, critics, influencers, advocates, patrons, and leaders.

"I've had to live largely without [arts and culture] for two years and I've missed it profoundly. My mind, my heart, and my community all feel smaller."

King County Cultural Participant

"The additional opportunity for education and personal growth through online programming during the pandemic has been so valuable. I’ve attended conferences and seen speakers and performances I never would have been able to travel to see in person. As a person with disabilities, it has been particularly rewarding to have more arts at my fingertips."

Yakima County Cultural Participant

"Having access to programming outside of the area in which I live has been really wonderful. I hope organizations are able to keep it up once things have safely reopened."

King County Cultural Participant

"[Arts and culture] have been so critical to starting to feel "normal" again. Even though it might not be categorized this way, I feel that art and cultural programming are "essential" for life."

Snohomish County Cultural Participant

"I think people are looking for things that bring hope — the arts enrich our lives and bring relief/understanding/compassion to the human condition — it has been a long and weary time and we need things that bring us hope."

King County Cultural Participant

"The pandemic has made me viscerally realize one of the necessary functions of culture and art, and how deeply we need to have space to either create out of our experiences or to see ourselves and our experiences reflected in the creations of others (or both)."

Douglas County Cultural Participant

Additional Resources

Media Coverage

Advisory Committee

Kate Becker, Office of King County Executive Dow Constantine

Jane Broom, Microsoft Philanthropies

Mason Burley, Innovia Foundation

Amy Chasanov, The 5th Avenue Theatre

Jennifer Chastain, formerly Bank of America

David Fischer, Tacoma Arts Live

Melissa Huggins, Spokane Arts

Jason Hunke, Vulcan Inc.

Keri Kellerman: Scandiuzzi Krebs; formerly Whim W’Him

Elizabeth MacPherson, Mithun; ArtsFund Board of Trustees

James Miles, MENTOR Washington

Markham McIntyre, Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce

Joan Rabinowitz, Jack Straw Cultural Center

Julia Reed, Kinetic West

Nina Yarbrough, 4Culture; formerly Central District Forum for Arts & Ideas


The COVID Cultural Impact Study report is sponsored by:

With additional support from:


Report authored by:

Research collaboration by:

Dr. William B. Beyers,
University of Washington

Design by:

CCIS Community Conversations sponsor:

Photo Credits

Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP), Girl Scout Day at the Museum, photo courtesy of MoPOP

Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Asian Art Museum Reopening performance, photo by Jueqian Fang

Tacoma Arts Live, Caravan Chronicles, photo by Lisa Monet Photography


For more information about the COVID Cultural Impact study, please contact